Last Sunday’s 7-6 loss to the Jets was another glum reminder as to why Larry Fitzgerald never should have re-signed with the Arizona Cardinals.
What was he thinking? This is the best pass catcher in football. He had a chance to escape. 2011 was the last year of his deal. All he had to do was play it out then walk. Didn’t he know the history? Didn’t he know the Cardinals have one of the worst quarterback-choosing customs in the history of modern man?
This is a franchise that brought us the glory of Steve Pisarkiewicz and Timm Rosenbach and Matt Leinart. The same authority that slapped retreads on Jay Schroeder and Derek Anderson and Jeff Blake and watched the wheels blow off. Neil Lomax and Jake Plummer had their moments, but the best starters in Cards history were a pair of hitchhikers, guys they found out thumbing for a ride — Jim Hart and Kurt Warner. Street mercenaries.
Sure, it was an eight-year deal for $120 million. That’s not trailer park money, but didn’t Larry realize it was going to be the most miserable $120 million he would ever earn? Didn’t he recognize he would be entering the realm of the wide receiver undead, where men with amazing moves and spectacular hands get buried alive under a bitter torrent of incompletions?
Fitzgerald put his name on the contract in August of 2011, even when he knew the Cardinal QBs of the future would be Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. Now it’s Kolb and Skelton and Ryan Lindley, and in New York on Sunday Lindley’s first pass went to Fitzgerald for 23 yards. Then Larry was done for the day. One catch. In their last three games, the Lindley-to-Fitzgerald connection has hit only five times for 65 yards. When Warner was there, those would be Fitz’s numbers for a half.
Afterward Fitzgerald took the gentlemanly road when asked about his chemistry with Lindley (10 for 31, 72 yards) and he didn’t launch any bricks at the rookie. Instead, he cast a few salving rose petals at the Jets’ secondary.
“The Jets do a good job disguising coverage,” he said. “Antonio Cromartie is a Pro Bowl corner, one of the best in the league. I tip my hat to him and that entire secondary. They played better than we did and that’s why they came out with the win.”
Then someone asked Fitzgerald about Arizona’s eight-game losing streak and the tone felt a little more honest.
“I have no words,” he said. “I have to laugh to keep from crying.”
A lot of people are laughing at that Arizona offense which came up with 22 second-half yards and went 0-15 in its third-down tries versus the Jets. It was one of the worst performances in modern football, and you hate to see a magnificent performer like Fitzgerald have his name associated anywhere near it.
I think about what he’s going through in Arizona, and then I think about another terrific receiving talent who suffered rag arms for a few years but finally made his way down the escape hatch. Anybody remember Wes Welker when he dressed for Miami? Of course not.
I covered only one Miami game when Welker was a Dolphin — against Green Bay in 2006. Prior to that day his quarterbacks were Daunte Culpepper and Gus Frerotte and Cleo Lemon. Against the Pack it was Joey Harrington and his passes sprayed here and there or skipped across the grass like soccer balls.
And there was Welker, digging hard on every route and banging out just 38 yards on six catches. Naturally the Packers won; Brett Favre was working for them.
Afterward I caught Welker in the locker room. He looked weary. Weariness, the aggregate of failure and exhaustion. Miami had chosen to attack Green Bay with a no-huddle and it was some workout. Not counting four Harrington sacks, the Dolphins ran 62 pass plays that afternoon.
“Frustrating day,” I said. “Looked like you were open a lot more than six times.”
He made a half-grimace then tried to explain it off nicely, saying his guys, QB included, knew what they were doing but were simply trying too hard. Like if you bang your head against a coconut just a little more gently, one of the two may finally split open.
“We just need to stop pressing so much,” he said. “We’re all so anxious to make that play that will put us over the top that we end up having poor execution.”
Translation: the road to 6-and-10 is bricked with good intentions.
Since signing with the Patriots, Welker has caught 646 passes and counting. New England teams, you see, tend not to press as much. Tom Brady tends not to get anxious.
Right now Kolb is the best of Arizona’s passers, but he’s out indefinitely with mangled ribs. It’s unsure whether the Cardinals will risk him any further this year, if he finally recovers. They’re now 4-8 in the win-loss column and playoff dreams are dead.
The Cards will likely sit high in the 2013 college draft, but the grim news is the available array of quarterbacks doesn’t look to be anything glamorous. One rating service has Geno Smith, Matt Barkley and Tyler Wilson as the top three prospects. They do some nice things, but none of them quicken the pulse.
Fitzgerald’s only short-term hope is for Kolb to heal up completely for 2013. And for the Cards to seal up their offensive line, a chicken fence which has allowed the most sacks in football (48).
But even a healthy Kolb is no real security. He travels the whole spectrum of QB performances. One day he’ll bomb for 325 yards and three scores; next time he’ll ring up a 45 or 50 passer rating. I guess he’s still figuring things out.
Anyway, it should have never come to this. Fitzgerald deserves better. The poor guy could have made it so much easier on himself, joining a team with a real quarterback. He should have thought it out more.
He should never have re-signed with the Arizona Cardinals.